Chapter 23 – Splendid Table
We sat in silence for some minutes before I, hoping to break the tension in the room, spoke up. “You have a very nice place here, Alexander.” I was careful to enunciate each syllable of his name with care, something that led to a lingering stare from our host before he responded.
“Why thank you, my dear… It was Susan, was it not?” He smiled broadly, the whites of his teeth flashing in the trickling sunlight. “You will have to forgive me, my mind is not what it used to be.” He chuckled at his own joke and watched me intently. The ball was in my court.
“It’s alright.” I waved my hand dismissively. “You didn’t have to break out the fine china for us…” I gestured at the table settings and the ornate accoutrements.
“No trouble at all, no trouble at all. We enjoy having guests over for dinner.” He glanced at the largest silver tray, which sat benignly at the center of the table. “Besides, this is not our finest china. It is fine, indeed, but it is not the finest. We save that for holidays and celebrations. Perhaps, if you choose to stay, we shall have one such celebration…”
He trailed off with a leading grin. He still wanted us to stay. He must not have overheard us in the living room. Good. He watched me strangely as I considered how to respond, but I ignored him for now. Hopefully he wouldn’t ask anything further before I had formed a better way to refuse his offer.
“Confound it, where are those women…” He started to twist in his seat, turning around and around as he attempted to catch a glimpse of the shut door behind him. Finally the door flew open and a trio of women entered with more serving dishes in hand. “Ah! There you all are. It is about time that you met our guests…” The women walked further into the room and each moved to stand behind one of the chairs. They did not sit, giving Alexander time to introduce them each in turn.
The first of these women was young. Very young. She seemed barely past puberty and she stood awkwardly, as if she was uncomfortable in her own skin. She glanced both this way and that with a frantic gleam in her eye which reminded me of a caged animal ready to snap. She lightly blew a puff of air to push her blonde bangs from over her bright blue eyes and shifted slightly in place. The tray she carried was large, nearly as large as her head, and full of a steaming pile of greens. “This is Anne, my newest wife…”
The second woman was also young, though less dramatically so, and appeared to be around her mid-twenties. She was so fair skinned that I doubted she had ever seen the sun. She had pulled her auburn hair back in a long ponytail which hung casually over one shoulder. She eyed each of us in kind, her gaze lingered longest on Rick, with a strange smile painted on her face. She lifted her arm slightly, shifting the sleeves of her green dress as she did so, in what seemed a greeting to the young man. She carried a slightly larger tray which held an assortment of large sweet potatoes. She barely seemed to notice the weight. “Elizabeth, my second wife…”
The final of the three women was notably older. Her shoulder length black hair was streaked with gray and her chubby face faintly mirrored that of her husband. She stood tall and proud, but she shot the occasional glance to her fellow women and her husband. There was a long and disapproving expression which swept across her face each time her gaze fell upon the young blonde girl. She wore a deep and dark burgundy skirt which, unlike the other women, seemed to have been made only for her. Beyond her sour expression, she seemed healthy and demure though she paid attention to us beyond the moment when Alexander introduced her. “And Janice, my first wife.” She nodded curtly at the three of us before returning her gaze to Alexander. The large bowl of mashed potatoes which she held firmly had begun to shake. I wondered if it was from its weight or the strain of whatever resentment she seemed to carry.
The three stood there, silently for a long moment, before Alexander waved a hand in their direction and they finally set their food down on the table before pulling out a chair and sitting down. I found myself staring directly at Elizabeth. She smiled coyly at me, but her gaze inevitably drifted back towards Rick.
I watched Anne stared at her feet and refused to make eye contact with anyone. Janice, leaned forward and began to remove silver lids from the remainder of the food. When she had grabbed them all, she returned to the kitchen before taking her seat. I slowly reached forward, eager to eat. I hoped a full mouth would excuse us from more awkward and loaded conversation. I found my hand stopped in midair by an admonishing Janice. She waved a finger at me and pointed to her husband, whom had lowered his head in prayer.
“Thank you, my Lord. These are simple words but they come from simple hearts that overflow with the realization of your goodness. We ask you to bless us as we eat, bless this food and bless the hands that prepared it. May the words of our lips spring forth from hearts of gratitude and may we bless others as we share your bounty today.” He paused, satisfied with himself for a long moment before adding, “Amen.”
“Amen.” All three of the women murmured in response to his prayer, though no real emotion reached their lips. Janice then nodded to me signaling it was time to begin eating. I cautiously reached forward and took myself one of the large slices of ham which dominated the tray in the center of the table. Around me, my companions and our hosts all took enough to fill our plates and began to eat in slow and awkward silence.